“Listen to this, O house of Jacob,
you who are called by the name of Israel
and come from the line of Judah,
you who take oaths in the name of the Lord
and invoke the God of Israel–
but not in truth or righteousness–
you who call yourselves citizens of the holy city
and rely on the God of Israel–
the Lord Almighty is his name:
I foretold the former things long ago,
my mouth announced them and I made them known;
then suddenly I acted, and they came to pass.
For I knew how stubborn you were;
the sinews of your neck were iron,
your forehead was bronze.
Therefore I told you these things long ago;
before they happened I announced them to you
so that you could not say,
‘My idols did them;
my wooden image and metal god ordained them.’
You have heard these things; look at them all.
Will you not admit them?
“From now on I will tell you of new things,
of hidden things unknown to you.
They are created now, and not long ago;
you have not heard of them before today.
So you cannot say,
‘Yes, I knew of them.’
You have neither heard nor understood;
from of old your ear has not been open.
Well do I know how treacherous you are;
you were called a rebel from birth.
For my own name’s sake I delay my wrath;
for the sake of my praise I hold it back from you,
so as not to cut you off.
See, I have refined you, though not as silver;
I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.
For my own sake, for my own sake, I do this.
How can I let myself be defamed?
I will not yield my glory to another.
Isaiah 48:1-11 (NIV)
I frequently hear people say that God’s people are never subject to God’s judgment – that we are exempt, because we are loved by God. Such ideas give Christians a great deal of comfort, I suppose, but they totally overlook huge chunks of Bible history!
When Israel was on the way to the Promised Land, God’s judgment fell hard on His people whenever they disobeyed Him, over and over again, until all those over 20 when they left Egypt were destroyed (except Joshua and Caleb, who were obedient to Him). Through the days of the judges, God allowed His people to be overrun by their enemies over and over again as they disobeyed Him. The climax, of course, was the Assyrian Captivity for the northern tribes, and the Babylonian Captivity for the people of Judah.
Isaiah here, and throughout his book, contains strong judgment on God’s people. God never sugarcoats anything, but always tells it very straight. He points out that judgment has fallen on His people (verses 1&2) due to their disobedience, specifically idolatry. But while He also indicates that the judgment is intended to refine and purify His people (verse 10), it is also very clear that only a remnant will be preserved through the refining process.
But some will say that we are now living in a new economy, the economy of grace; God doesn’t judge His people any more. The problem is, I can’t find that anywhere in my Bible! I do find that Jesus/God is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8), and I find that sin is, by its very nature, rebellion against God. I can’t find the verse that says, “No matter what you do, or how far you turn away from me, or how rebellious you are, or how sinful you become, there will be no penalty. I’ll just keep on blessing you, and only bring judgment on those who do the same things, but don’t call themselves Christians.”
We have to realize that we have been bought with an insanely high price by the God of the whole universe! And, as such, we are His slaves, and are to serve Him wholeheartedly, 24/7/365. Jesus’ parables often feature the casting out of a “worthless servant” into outer darkness, clearly intended as “Don’t let this happen to you!”
Too many of God’s people today are too hard headed (“foreheads of bronze”) for God to speak to, and too stiff-necked (“necks of iron”) for Him to be able to direct and lead in the way they should go. Too many have hearts that have been lured away from 100% devotion to Him by possessions and entertainments that our culture provides in such abundance.
Just as in Bible times, God’s judgment on His people first manifests itself as a withdrawal of His protection and power; the enemies that were once easily defeated now gain the upper hand, and society starts to slide downhill. God’s people, who are to be the salt of the earth, lose their ability to preserve society from decay, and are good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled on by men (Matthew 5:13). The next step in the process, historically, is for the nation to be handed over to the enemies of God’s people in order to purify a remnant. I really see the Church in America today as having lost our saltiness. We seemingly have no power or ability to stop the slide of our nation into decay and corruption, and we are being trampled on by men more and more.
The only solution to this problem is the same now as it has ever been. There are no shortcuts; there are no alternatives. 2 Chronicles 7:14 is the solution that God Himself prescribes for His people when they have started to experience His judgment: If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. Note that this is not directed to all of the people of the nation, but specifically to those who are called by the name of the Lord (that would be us Christians). We must:
- 1. Humble ourselves, individually and together, even to the point that we are admitting that we are part of the problem. This seems to be the most difficult part of the process (which is probably why God put it first!). Our defense mechanisms kick in and we want to see everyone and everything else as the problem, and ourselves standing above the issues, pure and holy among evildoers, victims of forces beyond our control. But if we are unwilling to admit that WE are the problem (and not cheating – not some hypothetical WE, but a WE that includes ME!), then the process is doomed. If you want to see a first-hand account of this in action, take a look at the prayer of righteous Daniel (Daniel 9:1-19), and see if there is any place where he uses the word “they” for those of God’s people who were suffering God’s judgment that they deserved. It takes real godly humility to admit that I have not been 100% faithful to God; to admit that I am a part of the problem.
- 2. Pray. Like Daniel, it’s not enough for us to admit to God that we have been wrong; we must pray for the restoration of God’s people to His favor, and for the healing of our land very specifically if we want to see Him act.
- 3. Seek God’s face. This talks about whole-hearted obedience to ALL of God’s commands (even Matthew 28:19-20!). Remember that Jesus pointed out in Matthew 5:8 that only the pure in heart, those who serve God wholeheartedly and are 100% devoted to Him, can see God face to face.
- 4. Turn from our wicked ways. This is the classic definition of repentance, a change in direction. Far from merely “turning over a new leaf,” true repentance requires a total reorientation of one’s life, turning totally away from the world and its enticements and totally toward God. A 90 degree turn won’t do it – it must be a 180 degree change in our orientation.
The wonderful thing is that we have the Holy Spirit to help us through every step in the process. But we must be intentional and united in our repentance. It needs God’s PEOPLE, not God’s PERSON to change our minds and change our direction, or it will simply mean that the heat will get turned up even higher on us until we are moved enough to really get serious about God.